While visiting Nevada, Arizona and California I have come across this awesome insect on occasion. This is the largest of the spider wasps, which use their sting to paralyze their prey before dragging it to a brood nest to serve as living food.
These two-inch insects are not only distinctive because of their size, but they are also easily recognizable by their blue-black bodies and bright, rust-colored wings. Their vivid coloration is an advertisement to potential predators of the wasps’ ability to deliver a powerful sting.
For humans and other vertebrates, the Tarantula Hawk has one of the most painful stings on the planet. American entomologist Justin Schmidt created the sting pain index and described the Tarantula Hawk’s sting as “instantaneous, electrifying and totally debilitating.”
Female Tarantula Hawks battle tarantulas (which are bigger than themselves), sting them and then drag the paralyzed spider to a specially prepared burrow, where a single egg is laid on the spider’s abdomen and the burrow entrance is covered. When the Tarantula Hawk larva hatches, it feeds voraciously on the tarantula, avoiding vital organs for as long as possible to keep the spider alive.
Adult Tarantula Hawks derive their energy and nutrient requirements from a diet consisting mainly of the sugar-rich nectar produced by flowering plants. The consumption of fermented fruit sometimes intoxicates them to the point that flying becomes difficult.
Despite their large size and fearsome lifestyle, Tarantula Hawks are relatively docile and rarely sting without provocation.